When I suggest that people in corporations refine communication by speaking their truth, by the expressions on their faces, you might think I've announced the arrival of Godzilla. Yet, this simple-but-powerful practice might be the answer to most workplace communication challenges.
I recently worked with a small group to facilitate teamwork and unravel an intense conflict that had been brewing in the department for over a year. One of the first elements of communication I introduced was using Ownership Language, to tell one's simple truth about the effect of an interaction. Something like, "I feel angry in response to your tone." Participants resisted my recommendation with familiar complaints about why it couldn't work. When we investigated the comments it was clear that they were based on fear.
Telling the truth is seen as a cultural taboo, something that can get you fired. Instead, workers stuff feelings until they have the opportunity to destructively vent behind the scenes, go dull from concealing truth, explode, or quit. It seems we have the choice of living with a continuous low-grade tension based on pretense and fear, or dealing authentically with tension in the moment by telling the truth and expanding to meet the consequences with openness and maturity.
In his book The Breath of God, Chetanananda equates serving God and growing spiritually with meeting and consuming such tensions. It is a profound transformational process.
"The truth will set you free" is a fundamental spiritual principle. We tend to limit the interpretation of "truth" to its definition when spelled with a capital "T" - meaning some great prophet's Truth or The Word of God. Yet, when I am able to tell my simple truth in the moment, I am freed from illusion. Whenever I bust illusion, I find myself closer to Spirit and freer to love. This simple act requires diligent awareness, practice, and discernment.
"Listening to, accepting, and acting on honest feedback is great leadership."
The willingness to explore is the tricky part. "To tell the truth" is often misinterpreted as permission to dump feelings. I want to be clear that the first step is to internally acknowledge your feelings then, if necessary, work hard to center yourself in love and open up enough to learn from an interpersonal exchange. Rocking the boat (by reporting an honest feeling response) requires the love and skill to keep it afloat. We need to love ourselves for however we feel and love others with the skill we use to present our version of reality. The payoff is that resentment doesn't build and revenge isn't necessary when you can own how you feel when you feel it, then explore communication to find what will work for all parties.
In my small group teamwork facilitation and conflict intervention, I witnessed a great sense of relief and an emerging new vitality when a few members of the department took the first steps to speak their truth in the moment. It was easier for them because we had established truthfulness as a unanimously accepted norm for the group. Even the boss welcomed the full process of honesty as a replacement for the negative venting that had virtually destroyed productive relationship and task effectiveness.
How much miscommunication, misunderstanding, and ongoing conflict would more courageous truthfulness and the openness to explore relieve in your organization? How much more productivity would result?
Let's take a moment and answer the resistance expressed by my small group. I credit The Hendricks Institute's "Body Centered Transformation" techniques as the basis for many of my perspectives. Their approach to body centered therapy as I interpret it includes deep breathing as a centering technique, identifying emotions through physical sensation, and speaking the truth with ownership language. Additional aspects of my suggestions come from my eclectic spiritual studies and resonate most with my work with Joel Goldsmith's - The Infinite Way, and the teachings of Swami Chetanananda of the Nityananda Institute.
1) "I can't talk to the boss that way, I'll get fired."
Make truthfulness part of the working vision of your department or organization. Create it as an established norm. Listening to, accepting, and acting on honest feedback is great leadership. Deep openness and the willingness to be influenced are essential to the success of this behavior.
2) "I'm not even aware of how I feel when something happens."
Provide communication training that includes attention to breathing, centering and telling the truth. Building awareness of your emotional reality is extremely healthy, increases vitality, and reduces stress. To build awareness, learn to focus on body sensations. (For example, "I feel tightness in my gut" could be a first step to acknowledging fear.) Love yourself for all emotional perceptions, right or wrong. Express truth simply with full ownership. Because I feel angry doesn't mean you made me angry, but it is useful information to explore effective communication. Speaking the truth includes describing specific behaviors and turning complaints into requests. Do something to create an uplifting solution for everyone involved.
3) "This is business, it's not right to talk personally at work."
It's an illusion to believe that we can leave parts of ourselves out of any environment or activity. Everything is personal. Why not be fully present? The personal evokes passion, creativity, and productivity. Every environment and every exchange offers an opportunity to deepen our spiritual work by putting it into practice.
4) "People will think I'm unprofessional."
What is most professional: venting, withdrawing, or courageously exploring the truth?
5) "We don't have time to deal with feelings."
Consider the time, productivity, and money lost when problems escalate to litigation, or when we work with a deadening low-grade tension.
The department I worked with continues to show these results: more communication, more constructive conflict, more demonstration of the department's Vision Statement, and more commitment to direction, which yields more clear results. When associates can explore their honest response to a communication, they aren't tempted to transfer feelings of dissatisfaction to complaints about direction and task. Issues become clear.
Speak your truth from a stance of full responsibility and willingness to explore. This simple communication principle practiced diligently in the moment can end a multitude of workplace nightmares, and open the way for more spirit and love in all your communications.
Steve Whiteford has a background in the communications industry and currently presents workshops on Conflict Management, Effective Presentation Skills, Outplacement, Customer Service, Team Building/Intervention and Leadership Development. He can be reached at [email protected]